Questioning the "publicness" of public spaces in postindustrial cities

Akkar, Z. M.

Akkar, Z. M. (2005). Questioning the "publicness" of public spaces in postindustrial cities. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 16(2), 75–91.

bus station , Newcastle , postindustrial cities , Publicness , redevelopment

The proliferation of alluring, distinctive and exclusive public spaces in many postindustrial cities raises the question of how far these environments are truly "public." Focusing on this question, this article explores the changing "publicness" of a recently redeveloped space in the city center of Newcastle upon Tyne, Britain, in relation to the dimensions of access, actor and interest. It further seeks to underline two emerging trends: the blurring of distinction between public and private spaces in the public realms of postindustrial cities; and the threat posed by image-led regeneration strategies to the everyday needs of and the civic functioning of genuine public spaces.

Main finding
The redevelopment of the Haymarket Bus Station has improved and diminished some of its public qualities, contrary to the recognition of the declining publicness of public spaces in post-industrial cities. Contemporary public spaces can show different degrees of publicness, with access to, public or private control over, and whose interest the space serves, all varying widely. Along these lines, the redevelopment of the Haymarket Bus Station improved physical accessibility but diminished social accessibility by overemphasizing its symbolic, aesthetic, and economic functions, partially privatized its operation and management, and ended up serving more private interests than before. A trend toward the blurring of the line between public and private places poses a threat to public spaces in post-industrial cities. Many British post-industrial cities (especially those with urban environments and economies in downturn) have an intense desire to use public space enhancements as an instrument for urban and economic revitalization. Efforts to promote the aesthetic, symbolic, and economic roles of these spaces threaten the space’s ‘publicness.’ Regeneration experts, local authorities, planners, and architects must take into account the wider civic function of public spaces in cities and the needs of everyday society, and not allow the image-related and economic effects to dominate.

Description of method used in the article
The author employs a case study method to examine the development of the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle, England, examining development plans, conducting interviews and observations, and taking photographs.

Policy implications

Organising categories